Left-wing criticism is not right

What is really behind the objections to Jewish Leadership Council chief Mick Davis's criticism of Israel? Is it what he said? To whom he said it? Or is the real issue, perhaps, who said it?

At that now notorious panel debate, Davis seemed to blame Israel for the collapse in the peace process, blasting Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for "lacking courage" to take steps towards a "great advance". He implored the Israeli government to recognise that its actions "impacted" him in London - implying that diaspora Jews were equal stakeholders in the Middle East conflict. And he confessed that Anglo-Jewry's leaders are afraid to speak openly about Israel's problems, re-enforcing the myth (proven false by his own words) that those holding dissenting opinions are suppressed.

To many, all this added up to an unjustified attack on the Jewish state. Others took no issue with the content of his talk, or respected his right to hold these views, but questioned his judgment in saying all this publicly. "He is giving ammunition to our enemies", they said - and this at a time when Israel is battling delegitimisation.

I do wonder, though, whether many of his criticisms would have been judged to be quite so contentious had they been made by someone else - someone from the opposite end of the political spectrum.

Mick Davis is head of the UJIA, which is considered by many British Jews to lean left. Seated on the same panel as US journalist Peter Beinart, author of a much-discussed essay critical of America's Zionist leaders, and Guardian and JC columnist Jonathan Freedland, his comments were, before he even opened his mouth, going to be interpreted as reflecting a leftist bias.

Davis went out of his way to reinforce this impression, positioning himself as part of British Jewry's "left-of-centre leadership". His comments were then all couched in the language of the left - using the dreaded phrase, "apartheid state" (although denying Israel was one - yet), referring to Israel's "minority issues" and doubting that Israel is a "moral nation"- again, yet.

It was inevitable that he was going to be slammed. Over the past few years, the quality of our communal discourse has deteriorated so shamefully that leftist Zionists who query Israel's path find their loyalty to - and love for - the state routinely doubted (see what happened to Beinart). Those on the right are so involved in defending Israel that some of them seem to have convinced themselves that it is perfect.

But, of course, you do not have to be on the left to be deeply concerned about Israel's future. Even on the right, only those wearing blinkers can deny that Israel is on a very worrying path.

Unlike Davis, I do not believe that the impasse with the Palestinians is Netanyahu's fault; no "courageous" steps will bring about an agreement in the absence of a Palestinian partner. And yet, I know that every day that goes by without a settlement is a demographic time-bomb for Israel. Peace is currently not in Israel's hands to deliver. But Davis is right - where is its strategy for handling the conflict in the meantime?

As an Israeli citizen, I would have voted for Netanyahu (had I been in the country) and would vote for him again. Opposition leader Tzipi Livni seems invisible. Nevertheless, there is no denying Netanyahu is a weak, indecisive leader. His Israel is ungovernable, with policies driven by coalition parties looking out only for their own constituents. I really miss Arik Sharon, who could get things done.

I worry, too, about the shrinking number of Israeli citizens equipped to enter the workforce because of their poor education. For how long can Israel's economic miracle last? And my heart is broken by Israel's secular population, which has become alienated from Judaism, and by Israel's religious establishment, which has done much of the alienating.

As for the way Israel treats its Arab population, I don't think Israel behaves "immorally" - every country, including the UK, has difficulty integrating its minorities and closing socio-economic gaps. Add the nationalistic element into the mix, however, and Israel is clearly playing with fire.

But let me repeat: I am solidly on Israel's right, a supporter of Sharon and Netanyahu. Is my loyalty to Israel suspect now, too? Or is that the kind of treatment reserved only for those on the left sharing their concerns, those like Mick Davis?

    Last updated: 3:18pm, December 20 2010